The Legend of Loyal Duke

By John McManus

The tale of Duke stems, as most legends do, from the seeds of reality. Where reality ends and myth prevails can only be personally resolved.

The name of the lonely Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad worker who brought Duke the dog to the Salida rail yard is lost forever. Duke, however, a smart, obedient and friendly canine, soon became part of the scene in the Salida yard during his master’s shift. A rail worker’s life in the 1890s could be described as hard, dirty and dangerous work with little compensation. The dangerous part of the job caught up with Duke’s owner one day when he was caught between a boxcar wheel and rail.

Loyal Duke
Illustration and story by Jon McManus

After the incident Duke, having no other home, spent his days haunting the Salida rail yard and station, or the lobby of the Monte Cristo Hotel at night. Railroad employees, regular passengers, as well as guests at the Monte Cristo, adopted Duke as a sort of mascot and town greeter.

Word spread up and down the line of the handsome and clever dog that welcomed visitors to Salida with a friendly wag of his tail. As the word spread it also intensified, such as stories about the day Loyal Duke dragged a six-year-old boy from the tracks, thwarting a fate similar to that of his owner years before.

In 1902, Duke died and his body was carried up and laid to rest on the eastern flank of Tenderfoot Mountain, overlooking the Salida rail yard. Citizens of Salida erected a wooden altar with four spiral turned posts supporting a pagoda-type roof with a metal plate engraved with “Duke’s Grave.” The original structure is long since gone but a concrete one has replaced it, keeping Duke’s memory alive.

Even though Duke is gone now a revival of his memory occasionally occurs, such as the Loyal Duke home-brew served at amica’s restaurant in Salida; or the emotion stirred up in the people of Salida when Duke’s Grave was recently vandalized. The latest resurgence is the new Loyal Duke Dog Park on the old Monarch Spur of the D&RGW and Holman Ave. It has been suggested by some that if you listen real hard at night, you can hear the bay of old Duke issuing from Tenderfoot Mountain.

Jon MacManus is a pen and ink stipple artist living in Salida. As he sketches, image and research seem inseparable, leading to wonder and investigation. The examination augments and enhances the illustration.